Structured data vs unstructured data: What’s the difference?

What is structured data?

Customer feedback essentially falls into two categories: structured data or unstructured data. By definition, structured data refers to “any data that resides in a fixed field within a record or file.” A good example of structured data would be spreadsheets, where information is readily searchable and can be placed in a pre-defined data field. In other words, it’s relatively easy to process and analyze.

How is structured data different from unstructured data?

Contrary to structured data, unstructured feedback (also referred to as ‘verbatim’), is more akin to human conversation—often characterized by grammatical errors and lack of punctuation—and therefore harder to analyze. Have you have ever attempted to manually read through hours of call transcripts, volumes of customer cases and endless chatter logs ? If yes, then you know that trying to separate the key insights from the other “noise” is a long, difficult process. Unstructured feedback requires context to be interpreted accurately.

The link between structured data and unstructured data

It is important to highlight that both feedback types are complementary. For instance, let’s say your a hotel manager and you recently asked a customer to rate their stay at your hotel on a scale from 1 to 5. One half of your customers rated their stay a “1” and the other half gave it a shining “5”. Alone, this information isn’t very actionable; it’s actually more contradictory than anything else. Now, what if instead we asked: How was your overall experience at our hotel? An open ended-question like this would likely yield more detailed responses about the condition of the room, the perception of the staff, the convenience of the location, etc.

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Only when you marry structured with unstructured data can you paint a complete picture of what your customers thought about your business. Structured data provides the what, and unstructured data holds answers as to why.